by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
embracing, fear, moral panics, schools, social networks

Why Schools Should Learn To Use Online Services Like Facebook & YouTube Rather Than Banning Them

from the embrace-and-use,-rather-than-fear-and-block dept

It's no secret that we live in a world of moral panics -- where new technologies are feared by those who don't understand them, often leading to regulations that block their potential. For years now, a number of politicians have sought laws to ban social networks in schools, assuming that they are either bad or simply inappropriate for schools. While those laws have yet to pass, many schools already do ban access to social networks and other sites. I've never quite understood how this makes sense. Rather than training students to use those sites properly, now they're seen as forbidden -- which only makes them more attractive to students, while making it even clearer that students won't be prepared to handle those sites properly. On top of that, as more powerful mobile phones become popular, students will easily bypass the school's own network and access those sites on their own -- and there will be nothing the schools can do about it.

So it's nice to see a sensible opinion piece in Slate arguing that rather than ban or block social online services like Facebook and YouTube, schools should be embracing them and looking for ways to incorporate them into the learning process. There are a variety of strong arguments for why this makes sense, but two that stick out:
  1. Students already like using these sites quite a bit. Using those sites to make other things more relevant and interesting seems like a good way to reach kids in a manner that they understand, and which doesn't feel quite as much like "education," but more like something fun that they want to do.
  2. Using these kinds of free tools may be cheaper, easier and much more effective than a number of the super expensive e-learning tools out there, which would require a steep learning curve anyway. But incorporating lesson plans and info and assignments into the tools that students already use would be both cheaper and more likely to actually be used.
Of course, some will decry that these sites are automatically bad for kids -- or that it makes no sense to waste time on such issues. But the fact is kids are going to use these sites no matter what. Ignoring that doesn't change that. Banning the sites doesn't change that. It just makes the activity more underground without any oversight or reasonable lessons. But incorporating the technology into the educational efforts could actually get a lot more attention. Yes, some of the examples in the Slate article seem pretty lame (and would be seen as such by the kids), but if done right, it really could add a lot more value to students' educations.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    johnjac (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 10:31am

    Technology Theater

    I used to work for ISP serving k-12 schools. Most of the time any technology is introduced into the classroom it is "Technology Theater" ie no real substance. It sets unused for years, mainly because all the teachers are afraid of it. They're afraid because they might not know how to use it as well as the students. If the students know more, they might lose control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Markus (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:23am

    K-8 Problems

    While embracing services like facebook is a fantastic idea, it is a little more difficult when the students that are being blocked are below the stated minimum age. Having worked at K-8 schools in an IT capacity, I can definitely say that the students are doing the exact same thing as their older peers, but what the educator's role should be is much harder to pin down. Also, many of the parents of such younger children are not even comfortable with services specifically targeted to that age group. We have been introducing collaboration tools like wikis, as well as personal blogs only accessible by students and faculty, but fighting to keep students from services like facebook when the school could possibly be liable if we did not is still the same impossible battle as the one wrongly being fought by 9-12 and higher ed. How do you teach students to interact responsibly with a service they should not even be on? We do attempt to teach responsible "netiquette," but if we go too far, we get in hot water for seeming to encuorage the students to explore services they are "too young" for. For older students it may be difficult finding the right way to teach the students responsible use, but for 5-8 especially it is a real catch 22.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    McBeese, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:45am

    The Problem is the Board

    The school boards have to approve everything that goes on in the classroom. My experience has been that the members of these boards are shockingly lacking in knowledge of most things pertaining to the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    DB, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:46am

    If schools tried to embrace facebook and youtube, it would no longer be forbidden fruit and thus not attractive to students.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:49am

    It's been my experience that the most frequent cause for this type of thing being blocked is that the parents complain. Most of the teachers/administration that are not entirely scatterbrained or hopelessly outdated do see these services as a valuable adjunct in one way or another. But let one single bad thing happen, WHAMBO! down comes the blocks.

    The problem is, of course, that most people see that an answer to a technical issue is more technology or of blocking the technology. Unfortunately, they don't seem to realize that in most cases, it's a problem of failed management and oversight, not of technology per se. If they did, then they'd see that the actual problem is in the mirror, not the display.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    reboog711 (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:55am

    My wife, an elementary school teacher got written up for "poor judgement" because she connected to students [and parents] via facebook.

    For some parents, her only way to contact them is on facebook. The school has no formal social media policy.

    I believe she did nothing wrong, nothing in violation of any school policy, and can offer no other explanation for the write up other than "People afraid of what they don't understand."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Markus (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:55am


    I must say that at least regarding youtube your statement is incorrect. We have taught our students to use youtube in their school projects, as well as how to separate the audio from the video in order to create new works. This has not stopped the students from wanting to view the latest cat related media or music video, but it has given them a greator respect for what effort does or does not go into the creation of such things. Many of them have their own personal channels as well. The idea that students only do it because they are not allowed may be true of some things, but these services have inherint value to the students i know and interact with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Derek Bredensteiner (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:57am


    And here we get to the core of the issue, Kyle's mom and the PTA she leads with an iron fist. How do you fight these book burners when sane and reasoned arguments fail?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    reboog711 (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re:

    Isn't separating Audio from YouTube Video is a violation of the YouTube terms of service?

    I once worked as editor in chief for a programmer's publication; and one author submitted a story about how to write a program to download videos. We ran the topic by "Google Legal" had they said it was a TOS violation and the story was axed.

    I would imagine audio ripping would be a similar violation, but I haven't read the TOS lately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    mike allen (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:59am

    makes no diference

    If schools ban them most kids have access at home hee in the UK. Kids used Utube to film bullying and put on the web which is a reason schools ban the use of that site. dont know about the U.S. but if they had been educated in the use of the site in the first place these videos wpuld not happen perhaps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    mike allen (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    i think he is refering to a video prior to uploading to ou tube not after. ie there own work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    dkp, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    back when I was in high school the school tied to block google so all of the students stated using google.ca eventually they gave up. if there is a way around it the students will find it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Sean, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 12:30pm

    Teaching the students to use sites?

    Who would you hire to teach a class about Facebook? You're telling me you want to hire a teacher to teach children/teenagers how to use Facebook? It isn't that hard and if anyone is doing the teaching, it will be students to their parents/relatives/teachers.

    This logic seems backwards.

    It's nice to talk about integrating Facebook into education, but the problem is that the people who are teaching are too old to know how to use it. It's a generation gap. Saying that it makes sense to use Facebook in school without offering any ideas is like saying, yes, it would be wonderful to end world hunger, but without proposing ideas or solutions, what's the point?

    Yes, you're right, it would be awesome to have Facebook integrated into education, but the people teaching aren't prepared for it - they're the ones holding it back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Bob Sled, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    Something you don't realize

    For some, its not that social networking sites like Facebook and My Space are bad, its that its possible to get viruses from these sites. Trust me, my parents and several people I go to church with have picked up viruses by clicking on a link from a friend in Facebook that was placed there by a virus that searches the friends list.

    As a network security engineer, I'm far more concerned about students that aren't educated in computer security enough to keep from clicking that link, not knowing how to tell that it may be malicious. Even with the best virus protection, some will get through.

    Plus, most teachers think of YouTube and Facebook as time wasters that distract kids from focusing on what they should be doing in class, and this is the reality of it. Its really a classroom management issue that falls on the teacher, but opening up sites that are known to be used by students as time wasters doesn't help the teacher manage the class since they can't constantly check to see what every single kid is doing on the computer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Dave, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 1:18pm

    From a network standpoint, it is near suicide to let Youtube traffic go rampant. I work for a college and we have to set all Youtube traffic to the lowest priority, otherwise we cap out our bandwidth within minutes. As with most colleges, we have a public access wifi network that incorporates between 10,000 and 45,000 users depending on the time of day. When the internal network is so clogged that you can't even access education resources that are needed for course work, because 70% of all traffic is trying to go to Youtube, it becomes a bit of a problem.

    You are correct in that we should embrace new techs instead of calling them evil, but this die has more sides than the one you explain. You have the educational side of it, the technical side of it, the parental side of it, the legal side of it, ect.

    Add that on top of trying to police for unauthorized content and unauthorized access in general... Like I said, it's pretty much suicide to not keep it under some kind of restraint.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 1:24pm


    There probably are ways around it and students have probably already found it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Josh (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 1:35pm


    Block Google? Why in the world... *bangs head on table*

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 3:52pm

    Instanity and unreason

    One doesn't fight insanity and unreason, one simply moves beyond those unthinking and reactionary forces. Their arguments are not fact based, they are based on unreasoning fear, willful ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry.

    As Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Markus (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I was in fact referring to this concept in general, either from their own or their friends work, or previously uploaded video, and in some cases this is against Youtube's TOS, but this is dependent on the content creator's permission, there is no blanket barring done by youtube, as well as the protection afforded by fair use. Some of the kids had figured out how to do this on their own, so we have begun addressing licensing concerns and responsible/legal use of Youtube in our integrated technology curriculum. For an example of a video where this is allowed by the author, see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    TDR, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 5:30pm

    This reminds me of a Chinese proverb I once read. Goes something like this:

    I see, and I learn.
    I hear, and I remember.
    I do, and I understand.

    If only more people would take that approach when dealing with tech and tech issues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 6:49pm

    TOS issues

    I'm not sure if facebook & youtube has an age limit in their TOS, but wouldn't that be teaching the kids that are below the service age limit that it's all right not to abide by any age limiting TOS and sign up using fake information?

    I have even seen some parents giving their kids the same idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    MarksAngel (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 6:55pm

    School in the US does nothing anyway 90% of the time, but teach our children how to be conformist. I have 3 children, all 3 struggled in regular school, and didn't do very good at all. So I pulled them out, they now attend school online, I haven't stopped them from accessing MySpace, or You Tube and their grades are better then they ever were in regular school. My Kids have even used these websites as way's to do projects for their school.

    Regular Public school as we know it is outdated, and does not work for our kids. If you have kids I highly suggest putting the parenting back in your own hands and finding a way to not send your kids to regular school.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    reboog711 (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 8:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Oh, correct, that would be completely different. If so, I misunderstood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Sean, Dec 31st, 2009 @ 11:57pm


    "School in the US does nothing anyway 90% of the time, but teach our children how to be conformist."

    You're right, but they didn't seem to teach you to conform to the rules of basic grammar.

    Moving on how can you say your kids grades are better than they were in regular school? Why are you still using grades as the benchmark? If you're just using high grades as your benchmark, then an 'easier' school doesn't actually mean your children are learning any more. If a child gets an A at one school and a C at another, it means the C school is an inferior school? Or does it make your child an inferior student?

    But all I see here is another parent who will place the educational duties on the school system rather than realizing that your child has been learning from YOU from day one. And a great job you've done - when regular school is too hard, just put them into an easier one! Higher grades=smarter children is one of the greatest fallacies ever perpetuated - and you keep on perpetuating it you 'anti-conformist' conformist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Harsh, Jan 1st, 2010 @ 9:07pm

    Re: Technology Theater

    that not entirely true
    most school dont want mobiles in the campus is because SOME PEOPLE have the tendency to take photos of there friends and teachers so they are posted online. and these mobiles become very distracting and so the students can not study.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    But, uhm, Jan 3rd, 2010 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re:

    Except that many online school curricula are more difficult and challenging than the equivalent brick/mortar school. We've seen it here in our state -- while the marginally successful brick and mortar school is making its students sick (literally -- puking from nerves) over state test (I'm sorry, the edubuzz word du jour "assessment") preps, the home school kids around here are maxing the tests, getting done in half an hour, and are talking about how fun/easy they were.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    BBT, Jan 4th, 2010 @ 8:19am

    Only on Techdirt...

    Only here would you see a serious blog post advocating that schools should be "training" kids to use Facebook. Really, of all the things a school should teach...Facebook? There aren't more important things a school might want to focus on?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 9:03am


    “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” - Confucius

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    D Reed, Jan 6th, 2010 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Technology Theater

    When teachers and students have access it will make a difference. Many school are inequitable when it comes to technology. Even schools within districts has different availability. Additionally it would be nice if the tech staff and directors actually collaborated with teachers when buying software and hardware.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Regents Review, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 4:58pm

    Ignorance leads to fear

    I agree 100%! People fear what they don't understand. There are times when it isn't the tool, but how we use it. The reality is that people will be exposed to social media more and more, and it is our responsibility as educators to educate our kids on how to use it properly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2010 @ 6:34pm

    There's no way to stop children - in an educational context - misusing sites such as facebook.

    There are plenty of other social networking sites that can be used for educational purposes that are not those that pupils are totally obsessed with, and therefore prevent effective use in the classroom.

    Yes some teachers are afraid of them, because they don't understand how to use them themselves - but the main problem is children's obsession with sending each other innane messages and their inability to see beyond!

    Why not suggest some of the other sites that teachers can use/set up - those that pupils do not have an obsession with, rather than damn teacher for being short sighted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Namewee, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 2:04am


    This is insane...........

    But it;s true............

    Because we are living in a mad world.......

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Jim Jim, May 23rd, 2011 @ 12:07pm

    Where is the educational content?

    Where is the educational content? My student can get on tonight. Let's start with the Civil War. Let's try Facebook. "Show Me The Content" that goes along with Ohio's standards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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